In a victory for science advocates, the Ugandan parliament yesterday passed the long-awaited National Biosafety Act of 2017. The president is expected to sign the law, which will become operational immediately.
Scientists have hailed the move as a monumental step that gives them assurance that their efforts spent in laboratories will not go to waste.
With up to 15 biotechnology products under different stages of trial, the passage of the bill is likely to help Uganda claim its place in Africa as one of the countries at the forefront of agricultural research. According to Masiga, Uganda will only be behind South Africa, Sudan, Burkina Faso and Egypt that have already commercialized biotechnology products.
The enactment of the law sets the stage for the many products still under confined field trials at research stations to proceed to final stages of research such as farmer field trials as well as tasting studies, before they are allowed to be commercialized.
Some of the most advanced products of biotechnology by Ugandan researchers include bananas resistant to the devastating bacterial wilt, maize resistant to the stem borer as well as the fall armyworm and potatoes resistant to the late blight.
As Uganda-based journalist Isaac Ongu noted, the mood among science allies was celebratory.
Scientists in Uganda have worked for years to find solutions to problems like banana wilt, a bacterial disease that has wiped out large portions of the banana crop, a food staple in Uganda. Uganda’s Agricultural Research Organization created a GM banana that is wilt-resistant, by inserting a sweet pepper gene into the banana’s genome, a development that the recent documentary Food Evolution covered extensively.
Patricia Nanteza who works with the national banana program at Kawanda, was ecstatic as she reflected on the way forward.
“It’s exciting, though it feels almost unreal after all the setbacks,” Nanteza said. “But finally, banana farmers will be able to access varieties of banana resistant to bacterial wilt, and the people, especially children, can finally eat bananas and other foods rich in Vitamin A.”
Now that the law has been passed, scientists can carry out final trials before applying for environmental release and commercialization.